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RI state Sen. Tiara Mack (center) celebrates Juneteenth Source: Instagram / Instagram

Over a week after an off-duty cop attacked a Black candidate in Rhode Island, another Black leader in the state faces a targeted online harassment campaign. Rhode Island state Sen. Tiara Mack became a topic of conversation after a video of her twerking on a beach before jokingly signing off with “vote for Senator Mack” went viral.

There’s no mistaking this short clip for an official campaign video, or a serious ask for votes. State legislator or not, state Sen. Tiara Mack is not here for the online ridiculousness. In Tweets Monday, Mack seemingly shrugged off the faux outrage contrived in a political hit by conservative accounts across social media platforms.

But she quickly flipped the script and wondered why her twerking on her day off was the news versus any other significant moment in her short career in the Rhode Island legislature. NewsOne sent the senator a request for an interview and looks forward to chatting more about her first term in office and re-election campaign.

Focusing on the twerking and the joy with friends instead of why there is this alleged outrage feeds into misogynoir, essentially racist and sexist prejudice targeted at Black women. How dare a Black 28-year-old hang at the beach with her friends and “twerk something, shake something.”

Up until recent history, voters would be asked questions about which politician, usually presidential candidates, they would want to drink a beer with. There is an ingrained racial and gendered bias in who is entitled to be seen as fun and relatable as an elected official.

It’s also ridiculous that people feign fake outrage and denigrate Mack while Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is subjecting public university students and staff to the modern-day thought police, among other things. All of this right after celebrating a holiday supposedly dedicated to freedom and independence.

Freedom of speech but just not for Tiara Mack.

But seriously, anyone covering the viral conversation around Mack should not only focus on her twerking on the beach as a part of a series of “silly day off” videos with friends. The context of why this has been blown out of proportion absolutely matters.

And the same types of people who will whine about freedom of speech and censorship are attacking a young Black woman for expressing herself. It’s hard work trampling on constitutional rights, but here’s a quick reminder that the First Amendment protects speech and expression.

The real question for voters and Mack’s supporters is where she stands on the issues.The reproductive justice advocate is a graduate of Brown University. Mack ran and defeated incumbent Harold Metts in the 2020 Democratic primary.

According to Ballotpedia, she won the 2020 general election in a landslide victory, beating her opponent by over 5,000 votes. Mack is now running for re-election. Rhode Island’s primary election is set for Sept. 13, 2022.

Supporters for a Republican running in the same district latched onto the outrage seizing the moment to try to gain more followers because *gasp* the queer Black elected official was twerking. Various accounts filled her social media with comments about how they wouldn’t vote for her or that she shouldn’t be elected.

“I literally won my election 60 percent to 40 percent,” she said to one troll. “I’m looking to get re-elected. Bye.”

The alleged outrage over a young senator having a bit of harmless fun is really about Mack’s politics. Without any context or information, the Libs of TikTok account tweeted the video to its over one million followers along with a note about Mack supporting pleasure-based sex-ed.

tiara mack libs of tiktok

Source: Screenshot of Libs of TikTok on Twitter

In a February interview with the Providence Journal, Mack explained that sex education should not come from a place of fear. She also wanted sex education to “affirmatively recognize pleasure-based sexual relations.” Parents had the opportunity to opt their children out.

Mack told the Providence Journal it was about helping students understand about having healthy boundaries and trusting their judgment, not usurping parents’ roles or any of the other accusations thrown around. The bill did not mandate a specific curriculum and could be tailored by the district.

Creating more inclusive sex-ed is not a new concept.

As explained in the February 2020 American Journal of Public Health, sex ed needs to provide students with more support to make healthy decisions. The journal advocates for U.S.-based sex education expanding to a sexual health framework than risk-focused.

“Sex education is the one school subject that is supposed to provide adolescents with the information and skills they need to navigate relationships, understand sex and sexuality, and find the resources they need for obtaining additional information and relevant health services,” read the article.

People reacting to the concept are putting their adult fears and idea of the word pleasure instead of considering how it is used in a technical sense. The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has technical guidance on teaching about pleasure in human contact, including sex.

Other national standards suggest including language to help youth learn how to communicate and set healthy boundaries. Another reason for at least broaching the idea of pleasure in a controlled learning environment is to prevent youth from being misguided, noting the failure to use condoms for fear of “reducing pleasure.”

None of this means graphic or pornographic conversations, which is always the insinuation from the right. Particularly when rights to bodily autonomy are being attacked, younger people should have age-appropriate information to make better decisions.

Outrage fueling harassment of Tiara Mack is the point.

Even if you disagree with the idea, distorting the intent without fully understanding the potential harm is a problem. As previously reported by the Washington Post, the Libs of Tik Tok social media accounts are leveraged to stoke outrage and, in some cases, have encouraged harassment against various liberal and progressive candidates, causes and organizations. Ironically the account’s creator has expressed feeling concerned with targeting after helping to build a brand that has led to targeted harassment of many predominantly LGBTQ+ people around the country.

The account is a part of a broader online trend used to enrage conservatives in a one-sided “culture war” that is really about denying people their autonomy and humanity. It’s also about removing people in positions of power that do not align with their restrictive view of everything.

Also, the Twitter user that shared the video with Libs of TikTok is associated with a conservative Rhode Island parents group demanding state Senate leaders address Mack’s video. It’s clearly an election year grasp at straws.

parents united RI twitter tiara mack

Source: Twitter / Twitter

But more to the point, many of the same environments that serve as a breeding ground for a conservative outrage are an entry point into the online spaces that fuel hate and violence of individuals like Buffalo and Highland Park shooters. Online hate is dangerous and increasingly targeting otherwise vulnerable communities.

The media shouldn’t feed trolls but give context where needed.

Sites purporting to provide news and information that simply posts this video or others without the context of the clear attack happening and why it’s even being blown up only further harassment. Posting about Mack’s twerk video without acknowledging the broader digital ecosystem at play is reckless.

It’s not enough to get people talking and being provocative when people’s real lives and work are at stake. Given all the things elected officials and candidates could do, twerking on their day off is the least of our concerns.

Similar attacks happened after Dr. Tarece Johnson was named chair of the Gwinnett County School Board. A compilation video of out-of-context TikToks was used to stoke fear and raise “concerns” among conservative parents and others.

Joy and fun aren’t new to civic engagement.

And while Mack’s clearly just having fun in the beachside video, there’s nothing wrong with talking about voting while twerking or dancing in general. Also, tapping into cultural references to connect with particular groups is not new. But culture organizing took center stage as a part of the organizing in the 2020 presidential election.

Get Your Booty to the Poll” was launched by a group of exotic dancers in Atlanta who wanted to reach people who frequented strip clubs. The campaign drew criticism from many ahead of the 2020 election, but the dancers were undeterred. Respectability politics and politics of appeasement often leave voters behind.

Not everything is for everybody, and we shouldn’t expect people to hide who they are just to get elected. For all the clamoring about free speech and bodily autonomy that clearly only applies to people who don’t care about public health and safety or want the ability to denigrate and harass others.

As candidates get more diverse, with younger people coming into leadership, there are likely to be moments of joy being expressed in various age-appropriate ways. Maybe if more people could twerk upside down, including the person who snitched on Tiara Mack and put the video on the radar of right-wing trolls, the world would be a better place.

SEE ALSO:

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